Science Café Cleveland – Electric Propulsion Technology: Enabling Smaller, Cheaper Space Missions


Talk Science, Drink Beer

  • Venue:Concert Hall
  • Showtime:7:00 pm
  • Doors open:5:30 pm
  • All Ages, Free Admission

Join scientists from across the region for a lively discussion of science topics.
These events are FREE/no cover charge and open to the public.
A full menu and bar are available.
Andrea Waksmunski, BS & Jonathan Haines, PhD
PhD Candidate & Professor of Genomic Studies, respectively
Department of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences | Case Western Reserve University
Every rocket, by definition, moves by throwing something, i.e. the propellant, overboard. Propellant goes one way—the rocket goes the other. The force exerted on the rocket depends on how much you throw, and how fast you throw it. The tradeoff, then, is:

1. Throw a lot out, but slowly. This is the rocket you grew up with—e.g. the Saturn V and the Space Shuttle. Think: burning chemicals shooting out of nozzles.

2. Throw a little out, but very fast. This is electric propulsion—using electricity and magnetism to shoot charged particles out the back.

Option 2 uses far less propellant, and so allows for smaller, cheaper space missions. Because of its savings on propellant, electric propulsion is a technology used increasingly by both civil and commercial space programs. Current examples are the NASA Deep Space I and Dawn exploration missions, hundreds of communication satellites in Earth orbit, and European spacecraft to the Moon and asteroids. And the field is growing: SpaceX recently launched 60 electrically-propelled satellites simultaneously, with plans for tens of thousands more to be launched in coming years.

Come join us this month to learn how electric propulsion works! We’ll look at some of the ways that the same force that you experience when you rub a balloon and hold it to your hair can be used for propulsion. We’ll discuss how to make charged particles, how they move when you push on them, what these rockets look like, and how well they work. Along the way, the challenges involved will become evident, so we’ll also discuss how hard the next steps in the development of electric propulsion will likely be.

Post-industrial culture has increasingly focused on analytic reason while neglecting, and even demeaning, empathic reason. This unbalanced approach is badly undermining personal and societal well-being. It is linked to a crisis in public health, to tears in our social fabric, and to the undermining of the public acceptance of science. Fortunately, neuroscience – along with some out-of-fashion ideas in philosophy and psychology – can point the way to a new Renaissance!

Event Sponsors

  • The Case Western Reserve chapter of Sigma Xi
  • WCPN ideastream
  • ACES+ program at Case Western Reserve University
  • Music Box Supper Club

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